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Toxic chemicals found on African coasts

High levels of toxic compounds have been found along the coast of West Africa

MADRID | April 7, 2011

European researchers say high levels of toxic compounds have been found along the coast of West Africa, possibly from illegal dumping and ship graveyards.

"We were not expecting to find such high levels of PCBs, highly toxic compounds that are considered as priority compounds by European legislation, in a region such as the western coast of Africa," Ailette Prieto, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country, said.

Scientists gathered samples in the region using a research vessel and from land-based station in Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

PCBs, shown to be carcinogenic, were used for years as dielectric fluids in transformers, condensers and coolants for various devices.

Their production was banned in the United States in 1979 and they have been banned since 2001 in European countries that signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Compounds, a release from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology said Wednesday.

Researcher Rosalinda Gioia at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom says the high levels of PCBs could come from "the illegal dumping of waste containing these compounds -- they can be released through volatilization and uncontrolled burning -- as well as the storage and scrapping of old ships."

The study cited the large ship graveyard in the bay of Nuadibu in Mauritania, one of the largest in the world.

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